This article was written by Erika Lehman, Marketing Communications Program Manager at eCoast
Perhaps I’ve buried myself a little too deep in Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth, but I’ve come to realize that building a good, solid case study is a lot like building a cathedral. Whether you’re showcasing a successful hardware installation that led to an ongoing business relationship, or a VoIP system upgrade that provided your client with a high ROI, a historical account of the successful business transaction is an ideal way to showcase your best work, promote your leadership in your industry, and inspire others to look to you for their future business needs.
Case studies are tough to create, and will take some time to develop; but a case study will be one of the best pieces of marketing collateral in your company’s repertoire.
A cathedral is a remarkable building commissioned and built to honor a patron saint. But like all business undertakings, the cathedral also serves as a testament to the architect’s work, and the solid craftsmanship of his team of builders. When constructing a case study, it, like a cathedral, should serve as an outstanding and impressive example of your best work, and tell a story about your client’s success without glorifying your own talents and achievements…but at the same time, it should be impressive, well constructed, and highlight knowledge and expertise that will knock prospective clients’ socks off.
Here are a few metaphorical tips to keep in mind when constructing a case study:
Build a foundation: Like a cathedral, a case study should be built from the ground up with a solid foundation. In other words, make sure you have a client case worthy of showcasing in the first place. Did the client experience a large amount of cost savings? Did they upgrade their network and triple their productivity? Before diving into production, you should feel confident that your story is worthy of retelling, portrayed accurately, and is exemplary of your best work and current business practices.
Don’t forget your patron saint: Sure, you are writing this case study to highlight the caliber of your work, but the case study itself is a story about your client, and the success he or she achieved in choosing to work with you. Your client, like St. Patrick, St. Mark, St. Luke, etc. must remain the subject of your case study at all times.
Balance is key…don’t let information weigh you down: The most impressive Gothic cathedrals rely on carefully placed load bearing pillars to displace the weight of the walls and prevent them from collapsing under their own weight. Therefore, avoid stuffing your case study with too much technical mumbo-jumbo, or focusing too intently on every tiny result. Four pages worth of product numbers and statistical data is daunting, and too much for even the most technical reader to take in. Instead, break your case study up into distinct sections, and be sure to keep each section to an appropriate length. We use and recommend the following breakdown:
- Customer Description
- The Challenge
- The Relationship/Selection Criteria
- The Solution
- The Results
Sure, you can toss in a call-out box, a few extra quotes, or your own version of a stained glass window, but don’t compromise the balance of the structure with too many additions.
Let the light shine in: You’ve successfully displaced the weight of the walls, so it only makes sense to carve yourself some windows and shed some light on your capabilities and achievements. Weave your company into the case study as much as possible without destroying the balance of the overall structure or taking the focus off the client (your patron saint).
If an on-site demo convinced the client to work with you, highlight it. If you worked out a unique solution to transport materials to a remote location in China, showcase it. If you managed completely transform your client’s remote access solution and support applications they’ve been struggling with for years, be sure to draw attention to your client’s appreciation with quotes, statistics, and other supporting materials. Highlighting key accomplishments is essential, just be careful not to go overboard and glorify yourself, as this could turn your case study into a piece of propaganda.
Go the Extra Mile: Centuries ago, each builder sought to make his cathedral the tallest in the world, and went the extra mile to build its spire higher than any other cathedral’s to ensure that his cathedral could be seen from miles away. Strive to do the same, and show your company’s willingness to go the extra mile for your client’s benefit.
If you went out of your way or pushed your limits to solve a problem or help out with an unforeseen disaster, be sure to include it within the case study. Although the case study is still about the client, that extra effort will help distinguish you from your competitors and take you from a “good company” to a company made up of “good people.”
So, if you’re ready to establish some good, solid marketing collateral and construct a case study, think of yourself as an architect, and try your best not to stray from the rules of construction. If you don’t think you have the time to build a case study from the ground up, commission one from a third party who offers copywriting services for companies in your industry.